Sidney Poitier Shrugged
Why the Collectivist Hates Sidney Poitier
Today is Sidney Poitier’s birthday. From his early pictures, such as No Way Out, A Raisin in the Sun, Edge of the City, The Slender Thread and The Bedford Incident to the year he starred in the top three moneymaking movies, one of America’s best actors displays passion, verve and integrity. Mr. Poitier embodies individualism onscreen.
His artistry grows with each performance. Whether as a disillusioned teacher coaching impoverished London students, a medical doctor extending courtesies to an ignorant San Francisco Democrat and his wife as they hesitate to bless their child’s interracial union or a wrongly accused Philadelphia homicide detective solving murder in an uncivilized town, Sidney Poitier adds range and depth to every character.
These three roles comprise his work in a single year. The movies—James Clavell’s To Sir, With Love, Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and Stirling Siliphant’s In the Heat of the Night, which held the top three box office spots that year—earned a profit. At what should’ve been the start of his career climax, the actor was persecuted for his ability and his individualism. On September 10, 1967, a guest columnist commissioned by the New York Times imposed unearned guilt on one of the West’s foremost actors strictly for the color of his skin. The article’s author smeared Mr. Poitier as a “showcase nigger”. The Times allowed the word nigger to be used—more than once—as a demeaning, degrading slur to humiliate Mr. Poitier.
As if anticipating today’s suppressive culture and reckoning with actual and potential financial harm in his abruptly cancelled career and smeared reputation, Mr. Poitier chose to never make another major feature movie with himself as leading man. Undaunted, he instead produced, directed and occasionally appeared in smaller pictures, most of which narrowly cast him among black folks. The New York Times tried to reduce America’s first black movie star to another lowly Negro victim toiling in his tribe. Sidney Poitier eventually re-emerged, appearing in multiracial casts, such as Sneakers. But never in harmony-themed movies as a leading character as he had in Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue and The Defiant Ones. Mr. Poitier ultimately triumphed, writing screenplays, such as For Love of Ivy, and bestselling books, serving on the Walt Disney Company’s board of directors and vindicating his legacy with 1980’s top-grossing interracial comedy, Stir Crazy, featuring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, which he directed. He chose to be left alone to write, enjoy marriage and fatherhood and create movies on his terms.
As a boy, Mr. Poitier had been jailed. He’d later lost a girlfriend in a plane crash. He had been threatened at gunpoint by a racist policeman—forced to march 50 blocks to where the cop thought Sidney Poitier belonged—an injustice the actor repurposed to infuse In the Heat of the Night’s most powerful scene. The Best Actor Oscar winner had starred as Clark Gable’s son, directed the late Cicely Tyson on Broadway and was turning in potent performances 30 years after 1967 in pictures such as The Jackal. Yet he never bothered to acknowledge as legitimate the New York Times smear posed as a question—“Why Do White Folks Love Sidney Poitier So?”. Sidney Poitier had powerfully and essentially shrugged, focusing on his life, vacationing with Mr. and Mrs. Jackie Robinson in Acapulco, fishing with Sammy Davis, Jr. in the Caribbean Sea and marrying someone he loved. Today, he is ninety-four. Let me propose a toast to one of the left-wing orthodoxy’s and mainstream media’s first targets for cancellation — and to his gloriously proud and unbowed life. To paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies, from a scene in which he puts others’ unearned guilt where it belongs, here’s to the great Sidney Poitier for having courage and being steadfast in seeing himself as the man of ability and individualist he is. Cheers.